Only two other sitting U.S. presidents have received the prize, and Mr. Obama, 48, has only been in office for nine months.
At the Nobel news conference, some journalists in the room gasped audibly. When presidential adviser David Axelrod was questioned about the White House’s reaction, he said they were also shocked.
The president was informed by his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, around 6 a.m. Gibbs described the president as feeling “humbled.”
“This is not how I expected to wake up this morning,” President Obama joked as he began his remarks about the announcement Friday morning in the Rose Garden at the White House.
“To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace,” the president said.
But Mr. Obama said he felt the prize was more of an affirmation of American leadership on important issues and recognized that the prize has sometimes been used to motivate and spur action, and that he would accept the award “as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”
President Obama spoke about the threat of nuclear warfare, the dangers of climate change, the necessity of ending religious and racial discrimination, and urged peace in the Mideast.
“This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration, it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world,” he said
Listen to President Obama’s complete remarks:
This article was updated at 12:28 p.m. ET.